Further training and advanced riding is often a taboo subject. Many riding schools coach students to pass both tests. Many senior riders have never taken a formal test or training. Dad even tells me his assessment was to ride around the block, not fall off, and that’s a pass.
I found passing my A test quite easy. Getting a clean sheet on mod one and mod two getting one fault point, but I still wanted to develop more skills.
Post-test education consists typically of one of two courses; either ROSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) and IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists.) Both aim to promote safer riding. There is a broad mix of both theory and on road practical, but both syllabi revolve around the Roadcraft manual, usually considered the Gold standard for motorcycling.
I opted for IAM, purely because great deals are available at shows. Between the courses, there is little difference. ROSPA requires a retest every three years to ensure necessary standards are met, whereas IAM has a recurring yearly membership fee and encouraged to retest frequently.
IAM has three tiers of award (Pass, F1rst, and Masters) with Masters being the highest attainable. Masters is a separate course, after attaining a pass or a F1rst with an increase in standards again. There is no time limit; you can take as long as you need to get up to standard for your final observed ride.
You are assigned to an advanced riding group when you join IAM. I thought this was going be a bunch of old guys with BMW GS’s and polite vests. Yes, there are a lot of BMW twins, but the age spread is as varied as the range of bikes. Despite the vast span ages, youngsters do seem to be few and far between, something I think needs to change. Also, I’m happy to say I haven’t seen a polite vest yet.
The course revolves around a team of observers who pass on the course content. Observers are unpaid, and do what they do for a love of helping to share knowledge and increase standards of riding. All they ask usually is a contribution towards fuel and refreshments, although this does vary from group to group. Standard practice for advanced riding sessions seems to pretty much as follows; a good ride out for coffee and cake. Followed by a debrief afterwards over more coffee and cake. The waistline does take a bit of a battering.
The primary focus of IAM is SAFETY. I know first-hand that as soon as people mention safety, eyes start to glaze over and people lose interest. The aim is to make SAFE but LEGAL progress, smoothly carrying speed through corners, making safe overtakes where appropriate and filtering through traffic. Observations and road positioning is critical, as is taking in and providing as much information to other road users as possible.
The course is a steep learning curve, new techniques and the new road positions take some getting used to, but after a couple of sessions, it becomes second nature. It all makes perfect sense once pointed out why. Hooked up with Bluetooth comms makes it much easier, as the observer can identify issues when and where they happen. With me, it was mainly silly bad habits, nothing catastrophically wrong. I was making silly little errors like dangling my foot down too early when coming to a stop and holding the clutch in while in gear at traffic lights, instead of flicking up into neutral.
After a series of observed rides with local and national observers scrutinising every move, the final hurdle is an observed ride from a retired or serving police officer. It follows the same system as regular observed rides, with both verbal questioning and assessment of practical skills out on the road. I was nervous but put at ease immediately, and it even made me smile that the observer was riding a…you guessed it BMW GS.
The final observed ride went well, despite it being -3, everything went smoothly. My previous teachers well versed me into knowing what to expect and what to do in every situation. I was confident to start and this continued throughout the ride.
The debrief couldn’t have gone any better. I picked up one fault point due to sitting in gear at a traffic light and not flicking up into neutral which I knew was one of my bad habits. The observer said other than that it was a great ride showing off my skills.
The course was easy to learn, and with it being one on one it was tailored to my learning style which is by going out and putting it into practice. One thing I struggled with was following the right line around a bend. Maintaining a safe position from oncoming traffic, but also useful to maximise vision around the corner. I tended to ‘hunt’ for the apex of corners, particularly on right-handers, meaning I got very close to the white lines. I had never given it much thought previously, but once shown how much of a difference being in the right position at the right time makes, it becomes clear how much more visibility you gain, and how much safer it is. The techniques taught are common sense, but it isn’t until pointed out when you realise why you should be doing it. It has helped me to become much more confident in my riding.
Advanced riding has completely changed my behaviour. This course has slowed me down considerably and become more efficient in my riding. I don’t need to ride at mega speed anymore, because performing overtakes at the right time, carrying momentum and becoming smoother still gets to the destination just as quick. I now see my old habits in other riders, taking those risky overtakes, being in the wrong road position and riding like loonies. I recommend this course to any rider no matter what skill level, even if you have been riding for 40 years, I bet you will learn something.
Only downsides, It’s not a free course like some others on offer, but ask yourself how many times do you see people buying silly expensive parts for their bikes? In reality, these parts provide tiny actual value bar ‘bro’ points with mates. Spending £100 on an advanced riding course would make them much safer, quicker and better riders than any exhaust.
Other bonuses include an insurance discount with some insurers, and also access to IAM advanced coaching days which held at various racetracks throughout the year. Even if you are not interested in being part of the club, the membership should quickly pay for itself from the discount on annual insurance premiums.
As for me, I haven’t decided what to do next. Part of me wants to take the next step and go for IAM Masters qualification, time to book a taster session!